This will be my last article before the code of conduct for the world’s largest democratic election process comes to force in preparation for the 16th Lok Sabha. The code of conduct will replace the parliamentary impasse as an excuse for policy paralysis. Landmark bills are stranded in Parliament and most of them are critical to the country’s politico-socio-economic good. In this policy paralysis fuelled by parliamentary chaos, education, especially higher education, policymakers are taking shelter under the slew of pending bills. Fourteen is my last count on them. The pending bills, except a few, are cosmetic additions to inflate the arithmetic count and not the prosthetic to replace the missing heart among policymakers to enrich quality.
Various questionable executive decisions of the Ministry of Human Resource Development retarded the progress of progressives. Did Right to Education guarantee knowledge? Did the PPP school model achieve anything significant? Will the abolishment of Distance Education Council and the almost-dead AICTE give more power to University Grants Commission (UGC) than it can handle? Will the skill-spine of India get strong through a stronger vocational education ecosystem? More questions seek more answers. One answer is clear—Passing of bills is not the solution and pending bills are an excuse for lack of outright decision-making. The desired output from a majority of the pending bills can be achieved through strict enforcement of existing statutes and regulations. The country is sick of Acts and needs action. Action by way of some policy announcements before the code of conduct can do the overall system some good. Here are some.
Action 1: While the PPP school model is moving at snail’s pace for reasons best known to all, the Union and state governments should encourage private accredited universities and progressive professional colleges to adopt select government schools in their immediate vicinity to provide substantial financial and academic support. The quality of infrastructure and the feeling of being in a good teaching environment is certainly a welcome signal for any schoolgoing kid. Various ASER reports are critical on the missing core and support infrastructure in rural area schools.
Action 2: Overhauling the entire university system through a major UGC review of public and private universities instead of targeted pseudo-reviews. After all, there are good and bad public and private universities. Encourage private professional institutions to use national tests like JEE, NEET, etc. and ensure admission is done transparently. Such institutions must be provided priority support for research and plan grants. This shall not only eradicate the capitation fee menace but also elevate the quality of enrolment which, according to Prof. Yash Pal, will enhance research productivity.
Action 3: Leave polytechnic education to the control of respective state governments. States are more capable and reliable to identify local skills to develop skill-based competency clusters. The existing model of AICTE (hub) and state government (spoke) arrangement is killing and not skilling polytechnic graduates.
Action 4: Research funding should be based on research output and not based on the wrong faith that IITs, NITs and public universities are inherently capable of doing research. Collaborative research must be made mandatory to ensure diffusion of best practices to the last academic mile instead of the remaining at the ‘elitist’ top.
Javed Miandad hit a six off Chetan Sharma when Pakistan required only four runs in the finals at Sharjah. The last ball is now being bowled and I am not greedy. I only wish that the MHRD scores the above four in one single policy shot. Can it? Let us wait till the last ball!